Four days after Francesco Molinari became 2018 European No. 1, the 2019 season started with the Honma Hong Kong Open. (Seriously, is there a sport with a shorter offseason than golf?) Since we’re into a new campaign, here are three things to look out for from the 2019 European Tour.
Allow me a small caveat since making predictions can come back to haunt the predictor: To paraphrase the line which opens the best Western movie ever made, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” most of what follows could come true.
3. Rory McIlroy won’t win a major in 2019
I’d love McIlroy to win his fifth major and first since 2014, especially the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam. That’s my heart speaking. My head says he’ll continue to struggle in the majors because of one aspect of his game: He doesn’t seem to putt well when it matters.
Overall, McIlroy’s 2018 European putting stats were decent. He ranked seventh in putts per green in regulation, fourth in putts per round and 16th in three-putt avoidance. Perhaps the most telling putting stat was in strokes gained putting: He was 167th.
McIlroy’s putting woes must be driving him to distraction. He seems to miss putts at key moments, from that 3-foot eagle putt on the second green at Augusta that could have paved the way to his first Masters title, to his Ryder Cup singles match against Justin Thomas. McIlroy would have won that match if he’d taken half the chances he had to put Thomas away.
There’s another worrying sign: He’s struggling to hit fairways.
McIlroy was second in driving distance on the Euro Tour, averaging 323.9 yards per blow. Just over half of those, 52.1 percent, found the fairway. He ranked 167th in driving accuracy.
No prizes for guessing what McIlroy needs to work on before Augusta.
2. Keith Pelley will quit the European Tour
Don’t be surprised if Pelley announces his resignation as European Tour chief executive. Guy Kinnings’ recent appointment as deputy chief executive points to the end of Pelley’s reign.
Pelley began his European Tour career in April 2015 after spells at Rogers Media, Canada’s Olympic Broadcast media consortium and the Toronto Argonauts. He lasted an average of four-and-a-half years in those posts. If we take that as a barometer, then Pelley is nearing the end of his time in Europe.
The Canadian has introduced the lucrative Rolex Series, presided over a winning Ryder Cup team and overseen numerous innovations. He got a shock last season, though, when stars Justin Rose and Paul Casey failed to turn up for the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, and McIlroy announced he might quit the 2019 Euro Tour. Time maybe for Pelley to realize he can’t build on what he’s achieved and start looking for other challenges.
I’m not the only one musing about when Pelley will go. It’s a matter of discussion among European Tour players and officials. Just as well Kinnings is qualified to fill Pelley’s shoes. Anyone who can manage the tempestuous Colin Montgomerie for most of his career should be able to handle Europe’s top job.
1. An Englishman will win a major
Danny Willett’s 2016 Masters victory was the last English major win. Don’t be surprised if one of his countrymen carry off one of the trophies that truly matter in 2019. Tommy Fleetwood has proved he has the right stuff with a second and fourth place in his last two U.S. Opens.
World No. 1 Rose has a great chance to add to his 2013 U.S. Open win. Ian Poulter and Paul Casey proved last year they’re still capable of success. Young Englishmen such as Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell had good 2018 campaigns.
Willett’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai win suggests we shouldn’t write him off from another major win either.
Roll on 2019. Gwk